NASCAR: New crew chief, new optimism for Jamie McMurray in 2015

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One of the standout drivers in the second half of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was Jamie McMurray, who although he failed to win a points-paying race and missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup was consistently the biggest thorn in the Chasers’ side down the road.

McMurray, in the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, ended 18th in the 2014 standings – one spot behind rookie teammate Kyle Larson – still won the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte and secured seven top-five and 13 top-10 finishes in the season.

After a winless year, it seems quite possible that McMurray could return to victory lane in 2015.

He’ll attempt to do so with new crew chief Matt McCall, who takes the reins from Keith Rodden. This will be McMurray’s third crew chief in as many years.

“I’m super stoked about Matt,” McMurray told MotorSportsTalk at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test last week. “He’s from the same mold that Paul Wolfe and Rodney Childers came from, where he had a driving career, peaked at that, and became crew chiefs. They do as good a job as anyone.

“From Matt’s background, he’s done a really nice job at the shop with his people skills. That’s half the job of being a crew chief, is dealing with and managing the people. I’m anxious to get to track and work with him.”

McMurray, like others, has to adapt to NASCAR’s testing ban for 2015, where only series or Goodyear tire tests are occurring. He related how big of a challenge that will be, especially considering Daytona will mark his first time working with McCall at the track.

“What’s weird is that no one ever wanted to go test, but now we can’t, and you wish you could!” McMurray explained. “It’s also a bit of a challenge for people in my position, where you haven’t worked with your crew chief. You need to learn each other, emotions, your goods and bads. We won’t have that until the Sprint Unlimited and the 150s. It would be nice to have the time before hand.”

As for the car changes coming this year, primarily in the horsepower reduction department, McMurray downplayed it and said it’s more a storyline for the media than an actual issue heading into the year.

“It won’t be too much different… it will be a good way for media to have a good story, about who adapts best to new rules package,” McMurray said. “But the people that adapt the best are the teams that do a good job getting the cars ready to go to track.

“The power side will be the bigger discrepancy,” he added. “Like every year past, there’s gonna be one engine builder ahead of everyone else. Hendrick has been amazing the last few years. I hope that they’re still on top of that. There may be a bigger discrepancy being lower horsepower than there used to be.”

Lastly McMurray gets to shake the cobwebs off – a bit – this weekend at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. He’ll share the No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford with Larson (who himself has been busy this month) and two of Ganassi’s IndyCar drivers, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan.

“It’s probably one of the best perks of driving for Chip is being a part of this event,” he said. “You’re part of a car that can win every year.”

Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen finish 1-2 at High Point, tie for points lead

Rich Shepherd, ProMotocross
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Time was running off the clock and Eli Tomac was going to give up the overall win to Ken Roczen, until the Colorado native dug deep and made the pass for second in Moto 2 at High Point Raceway at Mount Morris, Penn. Roczen would win his third Moto of the season, but Tomac won the war.

With a third-place finish in Moto 1 and his second in Moto 2, Tomac grabbed the overall victory for the second time this season in Round 4 of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross championship.

For Tomac, it was another difficult start to the race. He tipped his bike over in Moto 1 and fell back to fifth while battling two seconds behind the leader Blake Baggett. Tomac had to battle his way back toward the front again after barely cracking the top five in the first Motos in two of the first three rounds.

Roczen fared even worse in Moto 1. He finished sixth in that race – more than 34 seconds behind the leader Baggett. Determined to make up for his bad start, Roczen charged through the field in Moto 2 and took the lead from Cooper Webb on Lap 9.

“I was just going to charge,” Roczen told NBC Sports after his Moto win. “Do the best I can. I went back to my Colorado (last week) settings because the first race was awful; I couldn’t even ride.”

Tomac entered the round two points behind Roczen and was able to make up only those two points. The battle continues onto Florida next week with a tie for the top spot.

With a 2-5, Jason Anderson grabbed third overall.

Battling back from injury, Anderson faded in the closing laps of Moto 2, but is regaining strength each week.

Webb (third) and Zach Osborne (fourth) rounded out the top five in Moto 2 and finished fourth and fifth respectively overall.

Moto 1 featured a rider searching for his first Moto win in two years. Baggett earned the holeshot and held off an early advantage by Tomac. When Tomac fell, it handed second to Anderson, who finished nearly 10 seconds behind the leader.

“Every time I get out front here, I have that weird sensation of trying to keep it on two wheels,” Baggett said on NBC Sports Gold following his win.

Tomac was not the only rider to go down in Moto 1. Webb lost his pegs on Lap 9 and became the cape to his KTM motorcycle as he flew along holding tight to the handlebars. He recovered in that race to finish seventh.

450 Moto 1 Results
450 Moto 2 Results
450 Overall Results
Points Standings

Adam Cianciarulo remains perfect in the 250 class. Winning Moto 2 in each round so far this season, Cianciarulo has capitalized on his late event surges to sweep Victory Lane in the first four weeks.

It wasn’t an easy run for Cianciarulo, nonetheless. He was only fifth at the end of Lap 1 in Moto 1 and was forced to slice through the field to get to second at the checkers of that race.

“Just coming to the races now – coming to outdoor nationals now – compared to the past, it’s just an entirely different vibe,” Cianciarulo said on NBCSN after the race. “It’s like I’m experiencing it for the first time because for the first time in my whole pro career I believe in myself.

“It’s a process when you hit rock bottom and start coming back.”

Hunter Lawrence stole the show in Moto 1. Earning his first career win handily, he came out in Moto 2 and proved it was not a fluke by finishing third in the race and taking second overall.

“It’s awesome,” Lawrence said on NBC Sports Gold following his Moto 1 victory. “It’s just a Moto win, but it’s a big milestone in our trip and campaign.”

Chase Sexton earned the holeshot in Moto 1, but faded to fourth at the end. Sexton kept Cianciarulo in sight in the back half of Moto 2 to finish second in the race and third overall.

With a 3-4, Dylan Ferrandis finished fourth overall with Colt Nichols (5-5) finishing fifth.

After losing the overall at Thunder Valley amidst controversy, Justin Cooper wanted to make a statement. He barely raised his voice with a sixth in Moto 1 and a ninth in Moto 2 to finish ninth overall.  He lost another 20 points to the points leader as Cianciarulo starts to edge away from the pack. Cooper remains second in the points, but is now 26 back.

Garrett Marchbanks went down hard on Lap 4 of Moto 1 and had the bike land on his head. He did not start Moto 2, but there have been no report of injury yet.

250 Moto 1 Results
250 Moto 2 Results
250 Overall Results
Points Standings

Moto Wins

450MX
[4] Eli Tomac (Hangtown II, Pala I & Pala II, Thunder Valley II)
[3] Ken Roczen (Hangtown I, Thunder Valley I, High Point II)
[1] Blake Baggett (High Point I)

250MX
[4] Adam Cianciarulo (Hangtown II, Pala II, Thunder Valley I, High Point II)
[3] Justin Cooper (Hangtown I, Pala I, Thunder Valley I)
[1] Hunter Lawrence (High Point I)

Next race: WW Ranch Motocross Park, Jacksonville, Fla. June 22

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

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